Lawmakers want state to track health effects of depleted uranium

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(Hartford-AP, Mar. 10, 2005 5:55 PM) _ Connecticut could become the first state to track health problems of veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones.

A legislative committee today unanimously passed a bill that establishes a commission to study the health effects of depleted uranium and other toxic substances. It also establishes a new health registry for Connecticut’s returning military personnel and veterans.

The committee also passed a related bill that would make sure any Connecticut member of the armed services or reserve component who has been called up for active duty can be independently screened for possible exposure to depleted uranium.

Both bills await action in the Public Health Committee.

Several Connecticut military personnel who recently returned from Iraq told legislators personal stories of being exposed to several types of chemicals, including depleted uranium, which is left over from the process of enriching uranium for use as nuclear fuel.

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Lawmakers want state to track effects of depleted uranium

By Susan Haigh, Associated Press

HARTFORD ? In the 13 years since she cleaned uranium dust off U.S. military tanks and other equipment after Operation Desert Storm ended, Melissa Sterry’s health has steadily deteriorated.

She had three heart attacks and was diagnosed with a laundry list of other ailments, including chronic respiratory difficulties, muscle aches and spasms, chronic fatigue and a restricted airway, among other things. She takes 30 medications and is unable to work.

The 42-year-old veteran from New Haven believes many of her medical problems are from exposure to depleted uranium, a heavy metal used in armor-piercing weapons, and other chemicals she was exposed to while working in Kuwait with an Army logistical support unit.

“For me there’s been this gradual loss of abilities,” she told a legislative committee Thursday.

State legislators in Connecticut want to keep track of Sterry and other veterans’ health problems as they return from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

On Thursday, the Select Committee on Veterans Affairs unanimously passed a bill that would establish a commission to study the health effects of depleted uranium and other toxic substances. It would also create a new health registry for Connecticut’s returning military personnel and veterans.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, the committee co-chairman, said if the full General Assembly passes the bill, Connecticut would be the first state to embark on such a study and create a related health registry.

“Over the next six months, by having a task force develop a registry and protections for our soldiers, Connecticut is going to lead the nation in taking care of ? and insuring the health and well-being of ? our servicemen and servicewomen,” Slossberg said.

The committee also passed a related bill proposed by Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, that would ensure that any Connecticut member of the armed services or any reserve component who has been called up for active duty can be independently screened for possible exposure to depleted uranium when they return home.

Both bills await action by the Public Health Committee.

Several Connecticut military personnel who recently returned from Iraq told legislators personal stories of being exposed to all sorts of chemicals including depleted uranium, which is left over from the process of enriching uranium for use as nuclear fuel.

Capt. Gregory Samuels of Mansfield, former commander of the Connecticut National Guard’s 143rd military police unit, spent a year in Baghdad. He told of a vehicle filled with munitions that exploded outside his camp in 150-degree heat. The vehicle remained at the site for about week.

“I would say every soldier was exposed to depleted uranium one way or another,” he said.

Maj. Kevin McMahon of Old Lyme, a member of the 118th medical battalion, said his unit was stationed near an Iraqi trash pit that burned day and night, billowing black smoke.

“I have no idea if I’m going to have a hacking cough 10 years from now,” he said. “I do know I was exposed to things. What are those things? I don’t know.”

By tracking the soldiers’ ailments, the state can collect the data and document what is happening to the veterans, said state Veterans Commissioner Linda Schwartz. The information will also help Connecticut determine the needs of its soldiers.

“Something happened to them between the time they left and the time they returned,” Schwartz said. “We may theorize it could be depleted uranium, but it may be a number of things.”

Although Sterry receives federal veterans benefits for a leg injury, she still needs medical benefits. Like the Vietnam War veterans exposed to the allegedly toxic defoliant Agent Orange, Sterry said she has had to fight to convince the federal government to recognize there are health risks to uranium exposure.

The Pentagon has said depleted uranium is safe and is about 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium.

“People should be assured that this substance, this depleted uranium, does not pose a major risk for their health,” Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said last year regarding a New York National Guard soldier who claims he fell ill due to exposure to depleted uranium.

The Pentagon ultimately determined that the soldier’s health problems were not caused by the exposure.

AP-ES-03-10-05 1819EST

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Veterans exposure to uranium eyed

By GREGORY B. HLADKY, Journal Register News Service

03/11/2005

HARTFORD — Two bills focusing on potentially dangerous health risks faced by Connecticut veterans because of exposure to depleted uranium ammunition won initial approval from a legislative committee Thursday.

“Its a real milestone,” said state Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, who sponsored one of the bills to assure Connecticut soldiers a legal right to screening and follow-up care for exposure to depleted uranium. “I think were going to be a real leader on this.”

The other measure that also won unanimous approval from the legislatures Veterans Affairs Committee would create a state task force to investigate the health effects of depleted uranium exposure and review the best screening methods used to detect it.

Both bills now go to the legislatures Public Health Committee for further action.

Dillon said her bill is intended to put into Connecticut law a soldiers right to be tested and treated for exposure to depleted uranium, which is increasingly being used by the U.S. military to enhance the effectiveness of armor-piercing ammunition.

“Theoretically, were putting into state law what the Army says its already doing,” said Dillon. She said many veterans of the first Persian Gulf war and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have told her the U.S. military isnt providing the needed screening.

The co-chair of the veterans affairs panel, state Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said, “By having a task force develop a registry and protections for our soldiers, Connecticut is going to lead the nation in taking care of and insuring the health and well being of our servicemen and servicewomen.”

Veterans like Melissa Sterry of New Haven, a 42-year-old ex-soldier who served during the first Gulf conflict, have testified they believe exposure to depleted uranium is at least partially responsible for a broad range of devastating illnesses.

Sterrys dramatic testimony last month about her long battle to get federal officials to ac-knowledge that exposure to depleted uranium may have contributed to her debilitating problems drew attention to the need for state action.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also testified in support of the legislation at a public hearing Thursday.

“Unfortunately, the Defense Department has not fully acknowledged the potential scope of exposure nor has the Department fully tested all veterans who may have been exposed to depleted uranium,” Blumenthal said.

Debbi Newton, president-elect of the National Guard Association of Connecticut, submitted testimony calling the proposed task force study “an important first step in understanding what the effects are and how best to treat them and how to fund such treatment.”

Newton also praised the concept of creating a health registry system for veterans and military personnel so that they could be contacted “years down the road should further study, research or evidence be found that they may be suffering from the effects of exposure and not even know it.”